Jazz Appreciation Month got underway with the unveiling of donated items from the families of two jazz legends and a famous jazz photographer to the Smithsonian's National Museum of American History in Washington, D.C.
The name Miles Davis is synonymous with modern jazz, so what better way to celebrate the 5th Annual Jazz Appreciation Month than with an insider's look at the man who helped pioneer cool jazz and jazz fusion. Miles was an intensely private person, but that didn't keep him from traveling in style. Among the donated items from the trumpeter's family is a brightly colored designer suit that Davis wore during his performance at the Montreux Jazz Festival in 1991; as well as his sheet music for "Summertime," arranged by Davis and Gil Evans; and an electronic wind instrument that Davis experimented with on two of his most important albums.
Pianist and composer Monk was perhaps the most private of all jazz icons, but it didn't diminish his contribution to the development of be-bop. At the ceremony, jazz drummer T.S. Monk donated various items of his father's clothing, including one of his trademark skullcaps; as well as Monk's handwritten manuscript for his 1951 composition "Four In One."
T.S. said his family is honored that Thelonious has become such an important part of American culture.
"My father was one of those artisans that unfortunately passed away somewhat disappointed. I know that he felt like the world didn't get it [understand his music]," he said. "And here we are 24 years beyond his passing, and everyday I look up at the sky and I say, 'Dad, you know what, I think they got it.'"
Thelonious Monk and Miles Davis were two of photographer Herman Leonard's favorite subjects. Leonard began photographing jazz musicians in the 1940s at jazz clubs in New York City. He donated 20 black-and-white photographs to the Smithsonian, including striking images of Louis Armstrong, Lena Horne, Billie Holiday and Tony Bennett.
Leonard said he got his best shots by being patient, once waiting three days just to photograph Miles Davis.
"Well it ended up I spent about six hours there at his house. And I watched him paint and we talked, there was an interview from the British newspaper, and then there was just us," he said. "And at the end he said, 'Herman, if it wasn't for you I wouldn't be doing this,' to sit for the photographs. And that to me really was the greatest honor that I could have received from Miles."
Throughout April, the Smithsonian will help celebrate Jazz Appreciation Month with a variety of performances, dance, film, lectures and displays, including its newest acquisitions donated by Herman Leonard and the families of Miles Davis and Thelonious Monk. For more on this year's Jazz Appreciation Month celebrations going on in the United States and around the world, visit www.smithsonianjazz.org.